Experiencing The Christmas Markets

Rows and rows of Christmas goodies 
Christmas time is huge here in Western Europe. A nice change of pace after spending last Christmas in Japan. It's nice to drive around and see Christmas lights, Santa Claus decorations in the windows, hear Christmas music, and all the familiar things that remind you of the holidays back home. The Europeans, however, have a unique tradition that we don't have in the states (at least not to this extent): Christmas Markets. I feel so lucky to be over here in the month of December, when these extravagant festivals take place.

The Christmas Markets are seasonal (obviously) outdoor markets that are set up in every city during the month of December. Booths are set up near the city's center and they feature local homemade goods like chocolate, Christmas decor, toys, jewelry and basically anything festive. But the main attraction is the food. The primarily located booths are food vendors serving both local and exotic foods like bratwurst (German sausage), gromperekichelcher (A Luxembourgish potato pancake), waffles, fried fish, barbecue and almost anything you can dream up, even hamburgers and french fries. Also scattered throughout the market are many bars serving Gluhwein, which is a traditional European holiday drink made from hot red wine.

The Christmas Markets are the place to be during the Holiday season. We made the foolish decision to visit the market on a Sunday afternoon and the place was packed! Thousands of people flock to the market with their kids, grandparents, and dogs. (YES, everyone brings their dogs!) We were lucky enough to visit not one, but two markets this year. One in Cologne, Germany and one in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. Here are a few pictures from both:

First, Cologne. I have probably never been to a more festive setting in my life. The cold weather, the entrance surrounded by (real) Christmas trees, the smell of Gluhwein, the backdrop of the Cologne Cathedral. It just felt like the ultimate Christmas scene.

An aerial view. Each red booth houses a different vendor.  In the bottom right of the picture you can see an entrance to another Christmas Market. Because they are that popular. 
The very festive entrance to the market 
The central stage featuring performers playing Christmas music. 
This larger then life barbecue grill that was so impressive it warranted a picture. And that is coming from a born and raised Texan. 
Trying out the Gluhwein. PS- not my fave

Another view because it is just so Christmas  
And then Luxembourg City. A smaller but equally, if not more, crowded Christmas Market.

"Luxembourge Pyramids" Featuring moving nutcrackers, at the entrance to the market
A beautiful view, taken near the entrance 
A very popular and very crowded food stand serving brautwurst, mettwurst, and gromperekichelcher 
The above mentioned "grumperekichelcher;" A Luxembourgish specialty. Yum! 
The very center of the market, standing room only filled with hundreds of people eating, drinking, and socializing. 
My favorite :) Notice how crowded it is! We could barely squeeze in a picture. 
Like I mentioned earlier, we are so lucky to be here to experience this time of year. Winter is not exactly peak travel season, but the European Christmas markets are for sure something to be seen!